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  • I was incredibly fortunate to have a grandmother who introduced me to the world. If Nanny (my great-grandmother) was the keeper of the hearth (as long as she didn’t have to cook in it) and Iris (my mother) was the mostly non-nonsense disciplinarian, Shirley was the savvy sophisticate and the glamour queen.

    Grandma taught me to navigate a crowded 34th street on a Saturday afternoon. How to get a table at the dining room at Korvette's. How to ask for samples at the Macy's meat counter and get just the right amount of tongue and corned beef. She taught me how to bargain on 14th street, how to make sure I got all my change, how to hide my money in my sock, how to go under the subway turnstile (until I was definitely too old to be doing that). She taught me how to spot malarkey and call people on it. She taught me how to make a ham with pineapple & cloves & look fabulous doing it.

    Sharp tongued and a sharp dresser (I learned that word, "sharp," from her), fast talking and fast moving, Grandma taught me how to be a New Yorker.

    And becoming a New Yorker also meant claiming my place in the world. Grandma took me on my first international trip to the Bahamas (where she'd been with my grandfather and also with her girlfriends before). She would introduce me with pride to her co-workers and boss at Teacher's College (a place she would sometimes take me to spend the day where I desperately tried to type as fast as she could or write shorthand on her steno pads). I learned how to look people in the eye when i met them, shake their hand firmly and speak clearly and with volume. To be confident.

    I would come to know there was a world of hurt inside her, profound grief and insecurity about the depth of her many gifts. For nearly 30 years, debilitating depression and vicious anger, electroshock treatment and repeated hospitalization threatened to undo her and undo us. But to me, Grandma was smart, saavy, beautiful, funny, sophisticated, worldly, so full of love and So. Damn. Sharp. Even when I saw her last, on a day off from her dialysis, and she was stopping to sample grapes (all the grapes) in Fairway on our way to breakfast, Grandma was all of these things. I hope this is the Shirley we'll always remember.

    Grandma, you look sharp.


    Shirley Diane Mordecai, 7 June 1934 - 20 March 2013, with love to you my beautiful grandma
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